For believers, church is a place to hear God’s word, while in a community with others who can often feel like family. With each visit meant to give spiritual nourishment and encouragement, it can leave us feeling refreshed and renewed. But for a pastor or anyone in church leadership, church can often be the same place that leads to some not-so-great feelings.
I didn’t grow up going to church, but I spent a good bit of my teenage and young adult years visiting churches. You could say I was a strong-willed child who was caught between the sails of worldly independence and spiritual freedom. Critical of every place I went, I could never settle. It wasn’t until my 20s that I started to consider how much I needed the Church to help me grow my faith and experience true fellowship.
Over the next 10 years or so, I had pastors minister to me, allow me to build friendships with their families, or give me opportunities to serve in capacities where I could see more than the average church member.
Through those experiences, I saw how pastors and church goers can both benefit from the support and accountability they’re designed to give to each other. However, in the same way, I saw how certain behaviors can leave one party—or both—wounded, weary, or disconnected from a community they love dearly.
We often hear about how prayer, serving, and giving to our churches can do much to help advance the work of the Gospel, but I think there are four other things we can do for church leaders that can have a major impact as well:
1. Throw out the pedestal
Pastors who take their faith and calling seriously realize they are fallible sinners saved by grace just like every other believer and that living according to God’s will isn’t any easier for them.
I once heard pastors described as fellow believers with different gifts and a different calling. For this reason, I believe pastors have a desire to show humility and merely fulfill their role as one part of the body of Christ.
Although it is necessary to give pastors the respect they deserve as spiritual leaders and watchers of our souls, giving them pedestals is only detrimental. The lure of control and power can be tempting, and it can feed our egos. And it’s like the proverb says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
2. Keep the main thing, the main thing
Pastors speak into our lives in so many ways. They preach, teach, minister to us, and even offer counseling. But they were not given spiritual authority so they can be the Ultimate authority in our lives. Ultimate authority comes from God, and the commands He breathed onto the pages of the Bible.
So, for believers, the Bible is the main thing and in order to advance the Kingdom, pastors know we have to keep it that way.
We should be able to trust our pastors as spiritual leaders, but trusting them without first trusting the word of God is dangerous. When someone abuses their position as pastor and bears a false witness, it can keeps people naive, inhibit true discipleship, and only ensures their eventual destruction. In contrast, when one lives and speaks according to the word of God, he may be made competent and can be equipped for every good work.
3. Have empathy
No matter what type of church you go to, we can agree that pastors have big responsibilities that church goers don’t often think about.
Aside from preaching and teaching, a pastor has to deal with other people’s problems, sometimes at the risk of leaving their own problems unheard. They also minister to others and help them find peace in God while there may be discord left in their spirits. Whether they’re dealing with conflicts, counseling cases or other issues, any effort to honor God and those involved—without adequate support—can lead to weariness, burnout, or even feelings of isolation.
And work is not the only place a pastor has responsibilities. They have spouses and children and other obligations just like the rest of us. They need to be taken care of, as well. Only sometimes, there’s not much left to give.
Having empathy makes it easier to offer grace when it counts.
4. Show genuine concern
It’s typical for pastors to make sure we feel welcomed at church and know the support a local congregation can offer. Whether it be offers to help us move, renovate our house, pray with us, or give in a time of need, the effort makes us feel loved and a part of something bigger than ourselves. And we should extend that same courtesy to our pastors.
As the body of Christ, we’re called to show love to one another and bear each other’s burdens. That may look different in different churches, but making the effort could go a long way. We can sincerely ask how our pastors are doing and see if there is way we can offer support. We can look for opportunities to show hospitality. We can take them a meal, offer to babysit if they have small children, or send an encouraging note or email. And if possible, ask for their prayer requests and consider them as we consider those of others.
All Christians are called to do the work of the Gospel, but we’re all broken, imperfect people who need support from fellow believers to do it. So, when we encourage and build each other up, let’s not forget our pastors.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
Claresa Smith is an experienced journalist and poet at heart who writes about how God works in the everyday to inspire us and change us for the better. She is the wife of an artist and tech enthusiast, and spends her days chasing their spirited little girl. She blogs about finding the inspiration to live intentionally at claresa.net. She is also a regular contributor at GraceTable.org.